Italy has been on my mind. The other night, as I was trying to sleep, I thought about my relationship with my Italian host mom, Paola. Here are a few episodes about our relationship, my Italian experience, and a few lessons I learned.
I’m reading “Sogno Romano” to Paola in the kitchen while she makes lunch. She stands at the stove. Water boils. The sun streams in. Her cigarette sighs smoke on the counter.
She turns her head gently to correct my mistakes. Her nods tell me she likes the story. I read and try to speak clearly, roll my rs, say a question with the right intonation. My tongue stumbles over words and I feel my cheeks turn red. The phrases would sound much more beautiful if she was reading them.
But she isn’t. And I am. Her nods push me to say another word. She makes lunch, I read her a story. Together, we show one another we care.
It’s 11 o’clock. Paola comes in. In her hand is an espresso cup. The espresso I drink every morning because she insists. I’m confused because it is night now. But she’s insisting.
Her response: “Mirto.”
With a grin she hands me it. I take the small cup and take a small sip. Like espresso it’s strong. And it’s good. It’s alcohol.
I tell her I like it. She tells me she would give me more, but I would fall asleep. I laugh because she’s serving me alcohol in my pajamas, while I do my homework, and I laugh because she is right.
Many nights I will fall asleep with the lights on and a book in my hand because my feet have walked to places I have never been and my mind is constantly trying to comprehend conversations or formulate responses that I often solve too late.
I am already so tired. But I take a sip. It’s good. I’m experiencing and learning. I’m happy that she wants to share her Mirto with me.
A week and a half. That’s how long it took me to show Paola that I care.
It isn’t because I didn’t appreciate her good cooking, her comforting hand on my shoulder, her singing with the TV. It’s because I didn’t know how to appreciate her.
But tonight I figured it out. All it took was: “Grazie per cena.” And then I saw it, a big, kind smile. And then I heard it: “Grazie per la tua compagnia.”
It’s a routine we will create every time we eat. She prepares the meal, I set the table, then, we eat together.
After I see her face light up I make sure to tell her every time. I fly the table cloth out of the window, like a banner, and our bread crumbs fall onto the street like rain. I fold the cloth, step beside her and place it in the drawer. Before I leave I say it. My voice is gentle and genuine. I say it from the heart; “Thank you for dinner.”
Smiling big, she thanks me for sitting and eating beside her. I tip toe to my room with a joyful heart. It’s my favourite thing to hear and my favourite part of our dinner.